After Permanent Housing Added, Shelter Legislation Moves Forward

Supervisor Rafael Mandelman’s shelter legislation is going to the full Board of Supervisors after the Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee approved it on a 3-0 vote on May 26.

After several amendments through two committee meetings in May, one thing is for sure: Mandelman’s “Place for All Ordinance” is now a different animal from the legislation he introduced two months before with its primary focus on shelter softened as it moves to the full board on June 7.   

Originally, Mandelman proposed his Shelter Expansion Program calling for 2,000 shelter beds for San Franciscans living outside. This number now amounts to 4,397, according to the City’s most recent point-in-time count

That was until Supervisor Connie Chan rebranded the program as the Shelter and Permanent Housing Expansion Program when she sat in at the panel’s May 12 meeting. At that meeting the committee approved amendments from Supervisors Myrna Melgar, Ahsha Safaí and Chan. Those substantive changes required the committee to revisit and vote on the ordinance two weeks later.

Now, permanent supportive housing units, safe sleep sites, and safe overnight parking must be added to the mix. Melgar, who later agreed to send the proposal to the board, also added a requirement that the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing institute a telephone registration system for people seeking shelter no later than July 1, 2023. 

Before the pandemic, unhoused people seeking a placement in the shelter system were able to call the 311 service to get on the reservation waitlist for 90-day beds and accept whatever beds were available in a shelter of their choice. In March 2020, the City shut down the 311 waitlist and hasn’t reopened it.

Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness, commented at the May 12 meeting that the original version of the legislation never accounted for how unhoused people could access shelter on their own.

“Don’t say that you’re for shelter when you don’t have a way for people who want shelter to get that shelter,” she said. 

Chan added a mandate for the City to list properties that it could use for shelter and housing no later than three months after the ordinance’s passage.

The Coalition on Homelessness, which publishes Street Sheet, led advocates and unhoused people in opposing the original version, but supported the amendments. 

Before Mandelman relented to the changes, he noted the Coalition’s resistance in the May 12 hearing, maintaining that the visibility of tents and other improvised shelters in public space is unacceptable.

“Encampments are not OK,” he said. “The Coalition is not our friend in this effort. It is our opponent.”

Across the country, other cities have been enacting bans on encampments on streets and other public outdoor spaces after building shelters and other transitional housing to comply with Martin v. Boise. This 2018 federal court ruling deemed that cities must offer shelter before penalizing acts related to homelessness. Human rights organizer Carlos Wadkins of the Coalition told the panel on May 12 that the legislation is just a pretext for more encampment sweeps.

“It’s ever so telling that Rafael Mandelman referenced Martin v. Boise,” he said. “It’s not a plan to end homelessness—it’s a plan to work around Martin v. Boise.”

Before the May 26 vote, Yolanda Catzalco, a formerly unhoused person, told the panel not to authorize more sweeps should the legislation pass. She also addressed the ordinance’s lack of a funding mechanism, which might require diverting Proposition C funds to pay for it.

“Please, no sweeps,” she said. “Please [have] supportive housing for the homeless, and [do] not take any money away from Prop. C.”